“The only thing that will keep us alive in this pandemic is hope.. and a little kindness“-Ritesh Shergill
These are probably the worst years mankind has faced since the second world war.. This pandemic has spared almost no one. And for the initial few months, when I received news about it spreading through the world, never had I suspected that the pandemic would affect me irrevocably and cause me great distress and foreboding.
Even as the virus spread across neighboring continents, I thought that we were safe. That this was just another breakout that would be contained and its destruction would be contained in the news articles and stories that people would share online.
Back at home which is a 2 bedroom apartment in Borivali, one of the largest suburbs of Mumbai; For my nuclear family and me, it was business as usual. I would go to my office in Malad everyday, my 2 daughters Suhaana and Sayali would go to school everyday and my wife, who was and is employed as a housewife, would prepare us for the outside world and launch us with our respective Tiffins everyday. Then, she would spend the day cleaning, sorting and buying necessities from neighbourhood shops.
Our life, just like any other family’s was stuck in a routine. A cyclical routine of complacence and hope for an early retirement and a retreat into some small town or hill station to live out the final years of our life, even as our daughters would be settled happily with capable men about town.
As circumstances came to be, my Mother in law fell sick and had to be admitted to a hospital in her town of residence – Pune.
This was near mid March when the pandemic had just started to rear its ugly head in parts of India. And the lockdown hadn’t come into effect.
I urged my wife to head to Pune immediately and take our daughters with her as it would be prudent to do so, given the fact that my daughters were still too young – Suhaana was 9 and Sayali was 6 years old. And I wasn’t an apt caregiver given the fact that office work took up most of my time.
And so, on March 17, 2020 my wife and my children, my whole raison d’etre headed for the town of Pune.
This was normal. A few days without family would be fine. I would get some much needed me time. She would get some time off as the kids could be looked after by her family there – her Father, her uncles, their families. It was just an early summer vacation wasn’t it?
And as the days went by, the alarms started getting louder. The incessant ringing of bad news on the news channels and whatsapp forwards started to build into a crescendo.
I was content with the occasional phone call asking after the health of my Mother in law who it turned out had an episode of food poisoning and was fast recovering. I would see my wife and kids in another week or so when I would head there to pick them up.
Meanwhile, the number of cases being reported in Mumbai and Pune were rising at an alarming rate. At the time it concerned me but it didn’t affect me.
I was affected when my office asked us to stop coming in and instead start working from home. The gravity of the situation hit me then. This was bad. Really really bad.
And when our Prime Minister first declared a day of lockdown, it seemed that things were going from bad to worse. But I was still complacent and decided to wait for a few days to give my kids their much needed vacation.
And then on March 24th, a full lock down was announced and I realized – maybe I had been too complacent.
At first it was fine. Not seeing my wife and daughters in the morning was ok as I managed just fine. I knew how to cook so food and cleaning wasn’t a problem. I busied myself with office work and house work and a few days went by with Video calls, washing, cleaning, spread sheets, meetings and coding.
My wife and her family were staying put. I was staying put. The March 5 deadline did not seem too far away. The lock down would be lifted and as soon as it would be lifted, I would go and get them.
Then all my hopes were dashed when the lockdown was extended for another 21 days. 42 days without my family – that was disconcerting. My daughters had started to understand the gravity of the situation and kept clamouring for me to come and get them. Understandably, they had started to miss me and the familiarity of their habitat. My wife was getting concerned too. Still I had hope. That when the lockdown would be lifted, I will go and fetch them.
Then on 7th May, my younger one – Sayali; Developed a fever. A high grade fever. I got a frantic call from my wife at 2 a.m. in the morning that they were taking her to the hospital for a check-up. She wanted to know if there was any way for me to come there.
My heart was already leaving, getting into the car and starting the journey to Pune at 2 a.m. in the morning.
As I kept the phone, I kept thinking to myself “God, please don’t let it be Corona, please don’t let it be Corona.”
I did not sleep that night. The first hospital could not admit her as they did not have beds. Pune was hit badly by the coronavirus as well.
Neither did the second one. By the third hospital, my wife was hysterical and I was at my wit’s end. I had to be there. But how.
Come morning, I looked online for a way to get an emergency pass. I dropped a hasty email to my boss that I would not be available for the day. I didn’t expect any sympathy from that bastard. I knew he would badger me as I had a critical delivery looming and taking a day away from office would be detrimental. But I couldn’t care less. All I could think about was my daughter and her well being.
By 11 a.m. I had called a few numbers to see if I could get assistance for an emergency pass. Given the fact that I was so stressed, I wasn’t making much progress.
Then my boss dropped me a message or two. Of course I didn’t reply. By 12 p.m I had still not made any progress.
Finally, he gave me a call. I picked up and was ready to deflect him.
“Hello Ritesh, I apologize if I am I disturbing you, but do you think you could just do a quick handover to somebody on the team so that we can move forward for the delivery.”
My reply was curt and rude.
“Look Vinesh, I am indisposed right now due to a personal emergency. I will not be able to spare any time for office work.”
I cut the phone and continued on my discovery.
This was quite unlike me. I had always been a good employee, courteous and by the book. You would never have seen me talking like that to anyone, least of all my boss. But today was different. Today the pandemic had hit me and hit me hard. I was finally affected and in the worst way.
By 12.30 p.m. I was panicking and my daughter was at her fourth hospital, laid across my wife’s lap outside a physician’s clinic.
My in-laws kept sending me reassuring messages that they would take care of things and everything would be fine. But when a massive aspect of your entire world is laid on her back, sick and in distress you can’t help but think that nothing is ok. Not until she is smiling and dancing as you hold her hand when she goes to the park.
Not until she is singing gibberish songs or trying to mimic your scolding when you do something wrong.
Not until she can ride piggyback again and laugh as you tickle her.
Nothing else matters.
And then the insensitive bastard called me again.
I didn’t pick up. Let him call. He wasn’t important and neither was the office.
And then my cordial colleague called.
“Hey Ritesh, I really hope that everything is fine, Vinesh told me you were sounding distressed.”
“Hi Anupam, to be very frank, I can’t do anything right now ok. I don’t think he is capable of understanding, but my daughter is very sick and she is in Pune right now. We are not getting any availability for a bed right now and her test results haven’t come back.”
“Oh man really sorry to hear that.”
“I am trying to see if I can get an emergency pass to drive to Pune but haven’t been able to make any progress.”
“Hey maybe I can help you.” said Anupam. “Let me call you back.”
As I continued to call a few other numbers and write emails, I got a text from my boss. It read
“Company cab is being arranged for you to go to Pune. Please mail me your current address, your address in Pune and a brief summary about the reason for travel.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Of all the people in the world, Vinesh was helping me. The man who had people working through weekends and cancelling people’s vacation days so that they could come back to office and ‘work on critical pieces for deliveries.’
This heartless bastard was going out of his way to help me!
I immediately emailed him the details and sure enough, in about 15 minutes, I got a call from a company cab driver asking for my pickup details.
An hour later I was on my way to Pune with the letter in hand and contact information for a hospital in Pune that would not only get my daughter admitted but accord the necessary care required for her recovery. All thanks to Vinesh’s efforts who had arranged for everything.
As I journeyed to Pune, I thought about this. An asshole in the work place can be a decent human being outside. There was humanity in this world after all.
That evening as I sat next to my daughter in the hospital ward, I got a call from Vinesh. This time I picked up immediately.
“Hi Ritesh, I hope I didnt catch you at a bad time?” asked Vinesh, his voice was far from the authoritative tone he usually took. This time it was reassuring.
It was very hard to control the emotions in my voice. Despite my best efforts, my voice cracked a little as I thanked Vinesh for his kindness.
“Vinesh, words cannot convey how grateful I am to you for your assistance. Till today morning, I didn’t have any idea how I would be able to get here but your timely help has got me here on time.”
“No need to thank me Ritesh.”
And then Vinesh went on to say something I would never expect a person like Vinesh to say.
“In times like these if we do not do our bit our fellow humans then God did not put us on his Earth to deserve it. God put us here to destroy it. But every once in a while if we can do something for our fellow human beings, something that is well within our means, it can go a long way in providing hope for humanity. I have done my bit and will continue to do so. When you get the opportunity, you must help somebody as well. Otherwise this pandemic will not just kill humanity. It will kill our only hope for survival. That which makes us human. That which helps us survive.”
Then he continued in his usual tone to ask about my daughter’s well being
“I trust that your daughter is being taken care of and hope that it is nothing to worry about.”
“Yes Vinesh, the doctors have assured us that it is definitely not Corona. Just a seasonal viral fever. She will be ok in a couple of days.”
“Ritesh, please take care of your family. My best wishes are with you.”
“Thank you again Vinesh.”
“Don’t mention it.”